JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
More than 7,000 members of the Joint Base San Antonio community come together to pay tribute, honor and recognize prisoners of war and service members who are missing in action in the 37th Training Wing's sixth annual POW/MIA remembrance run Sept. 18- 19.
The event, which coincided with National POW/MIA Recognition Day, began at 8 a.m., Sept. 18 and continued for 24 hours, with participants continuously running while carrying a baton on one of seven JBSA-Lackland tracks.
"It's a great event; it's for former prisoners of war and those still missing in action. People who either gave the ultimate sacrifice or were captured and had enough faith, hope and belief that they will one day become free and they were so it was just me paying tribute and honor to them," said Tech. Sgt. Terrace Gill, 323rd Training Squadron, Military Training Instructor trainer.
The batons were presented to former POWs during an annual luncheon at the JBSA-Lackland Gateway Club hosted by the South Texas Veterans Health Care.
"On this day we remember and recognize those former prisoners of war veterans who suffered unjust imprisonment and tribute over their adversaries by our remembrance and recognition of their cruel suffering and victories liberation we honor them and give their life and tribute struggle deeper meaning," said chaplain Juliana Lester at the luncheon.
"And for all of us as a nation as we remember that freedom is not free for the great price that our former POWs paid we are grateful for their suffering and refusal to give up," Lester said.
Present at the luncheon were more than 30 POW/MIAs families.
Former POW, Jose Rodriguez, captured on April 25, 1951 in North Korea was surrounded by family members as he shared his story.
"I feel honored that they do this for all us and think about what we must have gone through, It was a very long time ago and I try to not remember it" Rodriguez shared. "It's a great and special day to meet again and talk with others."
To his left was his proud son, Randy Rodriguez, "I think it's a great that they recognize their service to this country. I am very proud of my dad!
" I can't put into words as far as heroes goes the sacrifice that he gave for our country and I am just glad that he come home alive," said Randy..
Across the room Tillman Rutledge, survivor of the Bataan Death March and Japanese prisoner for three and half years who received a baton in 2013 shared his memories of liberation and on the event.
"This event means a lot to us of course, it's getting smaller and smaller every year but is nice for people to do this," said Rutledge. "Freedom is not free and some people do not really realize that they are walking around because of the military."
Tech. Sgt. Mitchell Martinez, 323rd TRS MTI trainer, presented batons to the former POWs and felt proud to be a part of the ceremony and run, which started at the 323rd TRS in 2009.
"[Honoring POW/MIAs] is part of our tradition, it's part of our legacy; we always go back to the Airmen creed when we talk to our new Airmen; you have to know where you come from," Martinez said . "In order to understand who you are and where we need to go as an air force."